A most recurring and e-mailed story/argument about God and science

Readability test scores for this post are as follows:

scores for my reply (non-indented text):

Flesch Reading Ease: 53.03
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 11.00
Automated Readability Index: 12.00

scores for the message/e-mail (indented text):

Flesch Reading Ease: 83.29
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 3.00
Automated Readability Index: 3.00

For more info about readability tests, check out my post about those here.

Lately I’ve been really busy which is why I hardly touch my weblog. But a close friend of mine sent me an e-mail and asked what I thought about an e-mail sent to him by his friend/classmate. I usually put this off after I do some work, but this particular e-mail (not to mention this particular line of reasoning as well) really bothered me as how a lot of people, even in the academe (I’m afraid) still use these kinds of arguments. Here’s the e-mail and my reply to the e-mail:

———- Forwarded message ———-

Sent: Saturday, May 24, 2003 11:59:12 AM
Subject: [pisayback03] Professing to be wise, they became fools

Hmmm…I’ve seen/read this e-mail before, probably years ago; probably from theist students of philosophy or students who just cling to every shard of wisdom they can get to make themselves feel better and secure to know that there is a God.
Firstly, I don’t think this ever really happened in real life, otherwise, the so-called “atheist professor” is just a prejudiced irrational nincompoop. Obviously he’s not fitting of the title ‘professor’ if you know what I mean. Probably this conversation was cooked up by some theist person who wanted to drive his/her point by using elementary reasoning and definitions garnered from primary to secondary level science. Unfortunately, as professor Dawkins puts it, critical thinking (which doesn’t seem to be a universal attribute of the human mind) wasn’t really seen from the professor.

"LET ME EXPLAIN THE problem science has with Jesus Christ." The atheist
professor of philosophy pauses before his class and then asks one of his new
students to stand. "You're a Christian, aren't you, son?"
"Yes, sir."
"So you believe in God?"
"Absolutely."
"Is God good?"
"Sure! God's good."
"Is God all-powerful? Can God do anything?"
"Yes."
"Are you good or evil?"
"The Bible says I'm evil."
The professor grins knowingly. "Ahh! THE BIBLE!" He considers for a moment.
"Here's one for you. Let's say there's a sick person over here and you can
cure him. You can do it. Would you help them? Would you try?"
"Yes sir, I would."
"So you're good...!"
"I wouldn't say that."
"Why not say that? You would help a sick and maimed person if you could...
in fact most of us would if we could... God doesn't.
[No answer.]
"He doesn't, does he? My brother was a Christian who died of cancer even
though he prayed to Jesus to heal him. How is this Jesus good? Hmmm? Can you
answer that one?"
[No answer]

The elderly man is sympathetic. “No, you can’t, can you?” He takes a sip of
water from a glass on his desk to give the student time to relax. In
philosophy, you have to go easy with the new ones. “Let’s start again, young
fellow.”
“Is God good?”
“Er… Yes.”
“Is Satan good?”
“No.”
“Where does Satan come from?” The student falters.
“From… God…”
“That’s right. God made Satan, didn’t he?” The elderly man runs his bony
fingers through his thinning hair and turns to the smirking, student
audience. “I think we’re going to have a lot of fun this semester, ladies
and gentlemen.”
He turns back to the Christian. “Tell me, son. Is there evil in this world?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Evil’s everywhere, isn’t it? Did God make everything?”
“Yes.”
“Who created evil?
[No answer]
“Is there sickness in this world? Immorality? Hatred? Ugliness. All the
terrible things – do they exist in this world? “
The student squirms on his feet. “Yes.”
“Who created them? “
[No answer]
The professor suddenly shouts at his student. “WHO CREATED THEM? TELL ME,
PLEASE!” The professor closes in for the kill and climbs into the
Christian’s face. In a still small voice: God created all evil, didn’t He,
son?”
[No answer]
The student tries to hold the steady, experienced gaze and fails. Suddenly
the lecturer breaks away to pace the front of the classroom like an aging
panther. The class is mesmerized. “Tell me,” he continues, “How is it that
this God is good if He created all evil throughout all time?”
The professor swishes his arms around to encompass the wickedness of the
world. “All the hatred, the brutality,
all the pain, all the torture, allthe death and ugliness and all the
suffering created by this good God is all
over the world, isn’t it, young man?”
[No answer]
“Don’t you see it all over the place? Huh?”
Pause.
“Don’t you?” The professor leans into the student’s face again and whispers,
“Is God good?”
[No answer]
“Do you believe in Jesus Christ, son?”
The student’s voice betrays him and cracks. “Yes, professor. I do.”
The old man shakes his head sadly. “Science says you have five senses you
use to identify and observe the world around you.Have you?”
“No, sir. I’ve never seen Him.”
“Then tell us if you’ve ever heard your Jesus?”
“No, sir. I have not.”
“Have you ever felt your Jesus, tasted your Jesus or smelt your Jesus…in
fact, do you have any sensory
perception of your God whatsoever?”
[No answer]
“Answer me, please.”
“No, sir, I’m afraid I haven’t.”
“You’re AFRAID… you haven’t?”
“No, sir.”
“Yet you still believe in him?”
“…yes…”
“That takes FAITH!” The professor smiles sagely at the underling.
“According to the rules of empirical, testable, demonstrable protocol,
science says your God doesn’t exist. What do you say to that, son? Where is
your God now?”
[The student doesn't answer]
“Sit down, please.”
The Christian sits…Defeated.
Another Christian raises his hand. “Professor, may I address the class?”
The professor turns and smiles. “Ah, another Christian in the vanguard!
Come, come, young man. Speak some proper wisdom to the gathering.”
The Christian looks around the room. “Some interesting points you are
making, sir. Now I’ve got a question for you. Is there such thing as heat?”
“Yes,” the professor replies. “There’s heat.”
“Is there such a thing as cold?”
“Yes, son, there’s cold too.”
“No, sir, there isn’t.”
The professor’s grin freezes. The room suddenly goes very cold. The second
Christian continues. “You can have lots of heat, even more heat, super-heat,
mega-heat, white heat, a little heat or no heat but we don’t have anything
called ‘cold’. We can hit 458 degrees below zero, which is no heat, but we
can’t go any further after that. There is no such thing as cold, otherwise
we would be able to go colder than 458 — You see, sir, cold is only a word
we use to describe the absence of heat. We cannot measure cold. Heat we can
measure in thermal units because heat is energy. Cold is not the opposite of
heat, sir, just the absence of it.”
Silence. A pin drops somewhere in the classroom.
“Is there such a thing as darkness, professor?”
That’s a dumb question, son. What is night if it isn’t darkness? What are
you getting at…?”
“So you say there is such a thing as darkness?”
“Yes…”
“You’re wrong again, sir. Darkness is not something, it is the absence of
something. You can have low light, normal light, bright light, flashing
light but if you have no light constantly you have nothing and it’s called
darkness, isn’t it? That’s the meaning we use to define the word. In
reality, Darkness isn’t. If it were, you would be able to make darkness
darker and give me a jar of it. Can you…give me a jar of darker darkness,
professor?”
Despite himself, the professor smiles at the young effrontery before him.
This will indeed be a good semester.
“Would you mind telling us what your point is, young man?”
“Yes, professor. My point is, your philosophical premise is flawed to start
with and so your conclusion must be in error….”
The professor goes toxic. “Flawed…? How dare you…!”
“Sir, may I explain what I mean?”
The class is all ears.
“Explain… oh, explain…” The professor makes an admirable effort to
regain control. Suddenly he is affability itself.
He waves his hand to silence the class, for the student to continue.
“You are working on the premise of duality,” the Christian explains.

Up to this point I cannot help but agree with the student. The student makes really good points about science. However,

"That for example there is life and then there's death; a good God and a bad
God. You are viewing the concept of God as something finite, something we
can measure. Sir, science cannot even explain a thought.

The student is mistaken here. Thought or thinking involves the cerebral manipulation of information, which might have been from external stimuli through the senses or through reasoning and logic alone, that carry on as electrical impulses or synapses in the brain. You can probably get something a little bit near or a little bit off from my definition in sources and references, based on how we assume things.

It uses
electricity and magnetism but has never seen, much less fully understood
them. To view death as the opposite of life is to be ignorant of the fact
that death cannot exist as a substantive thing. Death is not the opposite of
life, merely the absence of it."
The young man holds up a newspaper he takes from the desk of a neighbor who
has been reading it. "Here is one of the most disgusting tabloids this
country hosts, professor. Is there such a thing as immorality?"
"Of course there is, now look..."
"Wrong again, sir. You see, immorality is merely the absence of morality.
Is there such thing as injustice? No.
Injustice is the absence of justice. Is there such a thing as evil?" The
Christian
pauses. "Isn't evil the absence of good?"
The professor's face has turned an alarming color. He is so angry he is
temporarily speechless.
The Christian continues. "If there is evil in the world, professor, and we
all agree there is, then God, if he
exists, must be accomplishing a work through the agency of evil. What is
that work, God is accomplishing? The
Bible tells us it is to see if each one of us will, of our own free will,
choose good over evil."
The professor bridles. "As a philosophical scientist, I don't view this
matter as having anything to do with any
choice; as a realist, I absolutely do not recognize the concept of God or
any other theological factor as being part of the world equation because
God is not observable."
"I would have thought that the absence of God's moral code in this world is
probably one of the most observable
phenomena going," the Christian replies. "Newspapers make billions of
dollars reporting it every week!

This is particularly amusing. I wonder how long ago this e-mail/story was really created?

Tell me,
professor. Do you teach your students that they evolved from a monkey?"
"If you are referring to the natural evolutionary process, young man, yes,
of course I do."

Once again, both the professor and the student are mistaken here. Students ( as well as modern humans nonetheless) did not evolve from monkeys. Monkeys as we now know them today also evolved and stemmed from a common ancestor together with homo sapiens sapiens millions of years ago. We don’t call those ancient ancestors monkeys, that is preposterous. They belong to a wholly different genus. Monkeys are modern animals like us, and so to use them to refute Darwin’s theory of evolution is usually a pitfall theists or creationists use against evolution, and is painstakingly disproved most of the time.

"Have you ever observed evolution with your own eyes, sir?"
The professor makes a sucking sound with his teeth and gives his student a
silent, stony stare
"Professor. Since no-one has ever observed the process of evolution at work
and cannot even prove that this process is an on-going endeavor, are you not
teaching your opinion, sir? Are you now not a scientist, but a priest?"
"I'll overlook your impudence in the light of our philosophical discussion.
Now, have you quite finished?" the professor hisses.
"So you don't accept God's moral code to do what is righteous?"
"I believe in what is - that's science!"
"Ahh! SCIENCE!" the student's face splits into a grin. "Sir, you rightly
state that science is the study of
observed phenomena. Science too is a premise which is flawed..."
"SCIENCE IS FLAWED..?" the professor splutters.
The class is in uproar.
The Christian remains standing until the commotion has subsided. "To
continue the point you were making earlier to the other student, may I give
you an example of what I mean?"
The professor wisely keeps silent. The Christian looks around the room.
"Is there anyone in the class who has ever seen the professor's brain?"
The class breaks out in laughter.
The Christian points towards his elderly, crumbling tutor. "Is there anyone
here who has ever heard the professor's brain... felt the professor's brain,
touched or smelt the professor's brain?" No one
appears to have done so. The Christian shakes his head sadly. "It appears no
one here has had any sensory perception of the professor's brain
whatsoever. Well, according to the rules of empirical, stable,
demonstrable protocol, science, I DECLARE that the professor has no brain."
The class is in chaos.
The Christian sits... Because that is what a chair is for.

Science is flawed in the sense that it is humble enough to clearly accept what it can and cannot do or prove at the moment — It is an ever growing body of knowledge. Since the so-called ‘professor’ (which from here on I will refer to as PIN – prejudiced irrational nincompoop) already made a fallacious premise, that being science is only about things which the five senses can undergo or experience, naturally it would have been a trivial task to refute him. What was comical was that the student, although he/she seemed to have made a point after humiliating the PIN, also used the same fallacious argument about science. This clearly shows that whoever wrote this piece of argumentation must not really be familiar with real, academic science at all.
In the end, I don’t think any of the two really proved anything. The PIN only humiliated himself the most, while the student who seemed to have wisdom and panache, didn’t escape the pitfalls of logic and reasoning, especially in the these kinds of discussions. The student also didn’t prove anything about the existence of God, but he/she most certainly reinforced the fact that the PIN wasn’t obviously worthy of his/her title and that the person who made this story was either lousy in reasoning, logic and argumentation, or he/she was just trying to be comical, I’m guessing.

Although I think it’s too optimistic, I do hope people (especially students in respectable universities and colleges) stop forwarding/sending this e-mail.

There are more I can say about this matter but the thermodynamics exam is coming up.

4 Responses to “A most recurring and e-mailed story/argument about God and science”

  1. Gail S. Says:

    Thanks for this — I get this email often and it is nice to have a well-articulated response at hand now :)

  2. f241vc15 Says:

    HI Gail,
    No Problem! Thanks for re-affirming my suspicions that this kind of e-mail and this particular logic gets passed around a lot, lulling not-so-observant readers into theism. Good thing it stops here and now.
    I got that e-mail I think 2-3 years ago (^)__(^)

  3. Gabriel Says:

    Just on the Darwin theory part…I don’t think he was necessarily contradicting it, but rather using it as a point to show that there are things you cannot directly prove through experiments. But I know many Christians who agree with Darwin’s theory…by the way, although you seem to have found many flaws in the text and seem to be dying to disprove the existence of God, I don’t think the text was intended on converting people to Christianity but rather just being a pleasant read for people who enjoy this type of thing. I think it was a big waste of your time trying to make it reasonably and philosophically “correct”. Anyhow, nice job, but you defy the purpose of the mail (its all about the message, not the specific content).

  4. f241vc15 Says:

    thanks for your opinions and criticisms Gabriel :)
    As for being a big waste of my time, perhaps it was, but then I’ve received this email at least twice some time ago, and I’d like this kind of email (even for rhetorical purposes) to stop from getting forwarded.
    As for disproving God, I think I wouldn’t be so bold as to launch a crusade such as that :) I don’t think that existence of God can be truly proven/disproved as much as we can’t really prove we aren’t just brains inside jars, being stimulated by other beings or machines into thinking this world we live in really exists.

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